Review: Astell&Kern SP1000 – Impressive

Disclaimer: The sample of the Astell&Kern SP1000 DAP was sent to us free of charge for this review on a long term loan. After the review the good old AK380 will be returned to South-Korea. AK is not in any way related to Headfonia.

Astell & Kern

The South-Korean Astell&Kern does no longer need an introduction anymore as they have quickly have become one of the world’s most famous DAP makers. Sure you might not like their marketing campaigns or price setting but you can’t deny the sublime design and top quality sound their unites have.

Before this new SP1000 came out, the lovely AK380 was the Astell&Kern flagship DAP. The AK380 actually is the replacement of the AK240 and as a result it was called “The evolution of a masterpiece”. The AK380 in all its different version is still available from AK, and that makes the SP1000 sort of a new flagship on the side. The pricing for both models even is the same at this time but from how I see it, not a lot of people are still buying the good old AK380. A friend of mine has been trying to sell his AK380 ever since he got his SP1000, and while it’s priced lowly, it just doesn’t sell.

“The A&ultima SP1000 is a one-of-a-kind, high-end,
powerful flagship high resolution music player equipped with the latest advanced features.”

While everyone seems to call the latest portable player the “AK SP1000”, it’s actually called the A&ultima SP1000. Astell&Kern had to come up with something new to differentiate this product from the rest and we all know their marketing division is quite creative. So, A&ultima SP1000 is the official name, but we’ll be calling it the AK SP1000, it’s as simple as that.


Whether you like or dislike the looks of something is always very personal but I for one, ever since I received their AK120ii DAP, am a fan of Astell’s design. Astell&Kern doesn’t just make DAPs, they make luxury jewelry at the same time. I’m not the only one thinking so, as Astell&Kern recently won the Red Dot Design Award for this AK SP1000. Their latest player simply is incredibly beautiful and it’s the definition of a sexy DAP.

To give the SP1000 this unique look, AK is using an external chassis made of rugged Stainless Steel/Copper that resists aging and external shocks. To maximize the screen size and make it look slick, AK opted for a bezel-less design for the High Definition 5inch touchscreen (720 x 1,280). The 5inch display delivers a vibrant and engaging viewing experience as song and player information is sharp, colorful and easily to read on the larger, brighter screen.   At very low brightness levels my SP1000’s screen brightness isn’t constant however and it fluctuates slightly. At higher brightness levels this issue disappears.

That however comes with a price as the new SP1000 is rather large and heavy with its 75,8mm x 132 mm x 16,2mm measurement and 387g weight. Even though it comes with a gorgeous leather case, it’s not an easy DAP to carry around in your pocket, but looks it has plenty.

To top all that off, the SP1000 comes with a new multifunctional crown-pattern volume wheel: “The crown-patterned volume wheel on the right corner is similar in appearance to a cut gemstone, which reflects light from various angles. The sophisticated volume wheel on A&ultima SP1000 not only delivers visual and textual details with precision, but allows convenient, one finger ON/OFF control and fine volume control with the addition of both push and turn features. »

This gorgeous crown really makes the SP1000 look luxurious and sexy, and on top of that it even makes using the DAP easier than ever before.

Lay Out

The Astell&Kern engineers and designers went for a simple layout with only the minimum of physical buttons. At the same time, even though it’s rather big and heavy, the SP1000 is extremely easy to use but it is easier to use with two hands, unless you’re just clicking “next” or “pause”.

On the top left you have the 3.5mm single ended headphone output which also serves as the line out for analog as well as the digital optical output. Next to it you have the balanced 2.5mm headphone and line output. The single MicroSD slot is on the right. On the right side of the unit you’ll only find the multi-functional volume control which also serves as the on/off and screen on/off button. The USB-C port is located on the bottom of the unit in the center and it’s also a digital output. To the left of it you’ll see the typical AK connectors to use the AK docking station/Amp with the SP1000. On the left side you have “ small buttons to go to the next and previous song and to pause/play your music.

Everything else is done by using the top quality touch screen.

The article continues on Page 2, after the JUMP

4.5/5 - (188 votes)

Lieven is living in Europe and he's the leader of the gang. He's running Headfonia as a side project next to his full time day job in Digital Marketing & Consultancy. He's a big fan of tube amps and custom inear monitors and has published hundreds of product reviews over the years.


  • Reply September 30, 2017

    John Lee

    “On technicalities the new SP1000 certainly takes the first price”
    A Freudian slip? 😉

  • Reply March 3, 2018


    Hi Lieven,
    how is it compared to AK320 in your opinion? I run it with Spiral Ear SE5 Ultimate. They are awesome, but I’m not sure if AK320 is the perfect match. Some say AK320 was the least coloured DAP in the range of AK. What do you think, is it worth the upgrade?
    Best regards, Michael

    • Reply March 5, 2018


      That’s not easy. To me the SP1000 is the best DAP when it comes to BA drivers (and UI), just for sound there’s also the L&P L6. And then there’s the Sony. But to keep it to AK: after I used the sP1000 for several weeks, I went back to the 380 and the difference just was too big to go back.
      Now I’m not overly familiar with the 320 but to me the SP1000 isn’t colored. So I do think it will be a nice upgrade but it does come with a nice price tag. Are you willing to invest in a TOTL DAP (you know, the maw of diminishing returns)

  • Reply March 29, 2018


    HI Lieven
    I don’t have L&P L6 but I had tried SP1000 and it sounds much rich compare AK 380.
    One important thing to me in terms invest DAP is the quality of sound. How was sounds quality of L&P L6 compare to SP1000? since the price gap of the two DAPs are so high 🙂
    what I means is the sound quality of both DAPs not other goodies 🙂

  • Reply April 23, 2018


    Is lime ear aether a good combination with sp1000? I just bought sp1000 and beat audio emerald 8 wire cable with inear sd2.

    • Reply April 23, 2018


      I like it (great treble) but that doesn’t mean you will. Any chance to listen to it upfront?

  • Reply April 24, 2018


    Hello Leiven,

    Can you please list out best IEM to use with SP1000?

  • Reply May 22, 2018



    Excellent review!
    How does the SP1000 compare to the sound of the Hugo 2?

    • Reply January 28, 2019

      Jared Crandall

      I would also like to know how the SP1000 or SP1000m fair in relation to the Hugo2. As much as I search online I can’t get a direct answer of what to expect when going from DACs to DAPs. I understand that the functions are not apples to apples, but no reason that the sonics can be compared apples to apples…

  • Reply July 19, 2018


    How to connect sp 1000 balanced/unbalanced output to Violectric v281 RCA/XLR?

    • Reply July 19, 2018


      Hi Nitish,

      for XLR you’d need a double-headed 2.5mm/3.5mm to dual XLR cable, where the 3.5mm is for ground only. AK sold a cable for that purpose, called PEF21. There are many cable makers that offer that one too, cheaper than the AK cable.

      If you want to go RCA just get a 3.5mm to dual RCA cable.

      Hope that helps!

      • Reply July 20, 2018


        Thanks for the help.

  • Reply September 26, 2018


    Hi, I am using SP1000 with Layla ciem.
    May I know which pure amp will be best paired with SP1000?
    Looking to maintain JH house sound, AK clarity with a touch of warmness.

    • Reply September 26, 2018


      desktop or portable? Budget?

      • Reply September 27, 2018


        Thanks Lieven.
        For portable, much of my listening sessions are on daily train commute 🙂

        • Reply September 27, 2018


          I’m thinking Vorzamp, Woo WA11, CypherLabs Duet (if you can find one)

          • Reply September 27, 2018


            thanks, i could still get Vorzuge amp pure II and CypherLabs Duet.
            Woo WA11 with DAC is a bit out of my budget.

            Which AMP would you recommend for my SP1000 with Layla ciem.


  • Reply October 7, 2018


    Very good and very helpful reviews. I want to ask one thing, if this player is compared to Altman Tera. Where is the difference?

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